Tibet, Mahakala – various forms (2)

15th-16th century, Tibet, Mahakala, bronze (brass) with silver-inlaid eyes, private collection, photo by Lempertz.

Mahakala in his panjarnata form, with one head and two hands, in which he holds a skull cup and flaying knife while supporting a danda stick across his arms, squatting on Ganapati, adorned with a garland of severed heads, a snake worn as a sacred thread, snake and bone ornaments, and wearing a tiger skin loin cloth. 

15th-16th century, Tibet, Mahakala, bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

In his four-arm (chaturbhuja) form, seated at ease on a lotus base, the main hands holding a skull cup and flaying knife before his heart, the others a flaming sword and another (missing) implement.

14th-15th century, Tibet, Mahakala, gilt bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo by Polyauction.

When the main hands are at heart level, the upper left hand usually holds a staff with a horizontal vajra sceptre across it, or a trident as above.

18th century, tibet, Mahakala, gilt bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo by Cambi Casa d’Aste.

Tibetan sculptures of his six-arm (shadbhuja) form are often late Chinese-style ones, with billowing scarf and spiky flaming hair standing on his head, sharp finger tips, bushy eyebrows and beard. In most cases the main hands hold a skull cup and a flaying knife. He wears a tiger skin loin cloth and sometimes an elephant hide over his back.

18th century, Tibet, Mahakala, gilt bronze (copper alloy) with pigments, private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

His upper hands hold a rosary of skulls and a trident or a staff, the remaining hands hold a drum and noose.

Circa 18th century, Tibet (or Sino-Tibetan?), Mahakala, gilt bronze (copper alloy), at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

He stands on elephant-headed Ganapati.

15th century (or later?), Tibet, Mahakala, white shadbhuja form, gilt copper with stone inlay, private collection, photo from the Huntington Archive.

In his white form (with a white body on paintings) he stands with his legs straight on two elephant-headed victims, pressing a wish-granting jewel against his heart with his main right hand, the left one sustaining a skull cup with a vase filled with jewels. The remaining right hands hold a flaying knife and a drum, the left hands hold a trident and a hook (elephant goad).

18th century, Tibet, Cintamani Mahakala, parcel-gilt bronze with pigments and turquoise, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

The same form (sita cintamani Mahakala = ‘White Mahakala holder of jewels’), with a skull cup full of gems.

17th century, Tibet, Mahakala, bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo by Drouot.

The way he sits suggests that this may be the vyaghra vahana (‘riding a tiger’) form, who holds a skull cup in his left hand and a stick tipped with a jewel (the latter missing here) in the other.

18th century, Tibet, Mahakala (labelled Yama), gilt bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

In his three-head, six-hand, six-leg form all his arms are stretched out. The missing attributes are probably a bow, an arrow, a vajra sceptre, the remaining hands do symbolic gestures.

 

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Tibet, Mahakala – various forms (2)

18th century, Tibet, Mahakala, copper alloy with pigments, at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York (USA).

One of the most recurrent forms of Mahakala is the one-head and two-hand form known as panjarnata/panjara nata (gurgyi gompo in Tibetan) – for the full and more accurate name and meaning see the Himalayan Art Resources website. Easy to recognise, he squats on a victim and holds a flaying knife and a skull cup before his heart and has a danda stick (missing here) balancing over both arms.

18th century, Tibet, Mahakala, mGon dkar (labelled son-dkar), bronze, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (USA). Called cintimani sita in sanskrit, this form has one head and six arms, the main right hand holding a wish-granting jewel at heart level. The other right hands hold a flaying knife and a drum, the left ones hold a (broken) trident, an elephant goad and a skull cup with a long-life vase in it.

Circa 16th century, Tibet, Mahakala – Chaturbhuja, silver, private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

The four-hand form (chaturbhuja) of this wrathful deity may hold a variety of attributes. The above holds a skull cup in his left hand and a heart-shaped lotus bud on the other side. The upper hands hold a flaming sword and a staff. He wears the usual wrathful ornaments including a five-skull cup, a garland of severed heads and a long snake worn as a sacred cord.

Generally speaking, male deities with a wrathful appearance wear a tiger skin loin cloth, marked with flame-like stripes, and females wear a leopard skin, marked with star-like dots. The above appears to be wearing a leopard skin.

12th century, Tibet, Chaturbhuja Mahakala, stone, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (USA).

On this much older example he is seated on a victim. He wears a tiger skin that completely covers his legs and his right foot rests on a large lotus fastened to the base, in the Indian fashion (Pala period).

 

Tibet, Mahakala – various forms

17th-18th century, Tibet, Mahakala, Brahmanarupa form, bronze with paint, at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg (Russia).

Mahakala usually has a dwarfish appearance, except in his rare Brahmanarupa form (also called Brahmarupa or Brahmanrupa), in which case he has the appearance of an Indian ascetic with a third eye, either seated or standing, with a thigh-bone trumpet in his hand or in his headdress and a skull cup in his left hand. The above has a banner leaning against his left shoulder, a garland of heads around his neck, a smaller garland of skulls around his left arm, from which a sword is hanging.

Same as before, cintamani sita form.

Obviously from the same workshop, this sculpture depicts the white form of Mahakala with one head and six arms (shadbhuja) holding a wish-granting jewel at heart level with his main right hand. The other right hands hold a flaying knife and a drum, the left ones hold a trident, a hook (elephant goad) and a skull cup with a vase in it.

17th-18th century, Tibet, Mahakala, gilt copper, private collection, photo by Kapoor Galleries.

Another one-head and six-arm form of Mahakala holds a flaying knife and a skull cup in his main hands, a rosary of skulls and a drum in the other right hands, a trident or a staff and a lasso in the remaining left hands. This form is proper to Tibet and known as ‘shangpa‘.

18th century, Tibeto-Chinese (made by a Tibetan artist in China), gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Nagel.

Chaturmukha Mahakala, with four faces, each with three eyes, standing on a victim and holding a flaying knife and a skull cup in his main hands, a sword and a missing attribute, which may be a bone garland or a lance, in the remaining one.

Undated, Mahakala, Legden, Tibet, metal, at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York (USA).

egden form (The Excellent One), Mahakala has one wrathful head with three eyes, two hands, two legs. He wears a large cloak and felt boots, a garland of severed heads and other wrathful ornaments and holds a short jewel-tipped danda stick in his right hand and a bowl of disease in the other, or a long jewel-tipped stick in both hands, as above.

Undated, Tibet ?, Shanglon Dorje Dudul, copper alloy with stone and/or glass and copper inlay, private collection, photo on Himalayan Art Resources.

The ‘Minister? or ‘shanglon’ form has one head and two hands or 3 heads and six hands. In his two-hand form he holds a precious jewel and a vase filled with gems.

On this example he holds a lotus bud with a triple gem on it (or a triple gem with a handle), and a vase toped with a triple gem.

17th-18th century, Central Tibet, Mahakala and copper alloy repoussé, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (USA).

We have already seen a few stone steles depicting panjarnata (or panjara nata) Mahakala, who has one head with three eyes, two hands holding a flaying knife and a skull cup before his chest, and two legs in a squatting position, trampling upon a victim.  He wears a skull crown and is adorned with snakes and a garland of severed heads. His main attribute, the danda stick, is missing here.

 

 

Tibet, Mahakala – unusual forms (3)

18th century, Tibet, Mahakala, gilt bronze (copper alloy) and pigment, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

A rare Tibetan sculpture of a three-head and six-hand Mahakala with only two legs, in embrace with his consort, who has one head and six hands. He holds the usual flaying knife and skull cup in his main hands, the others  may have held a drum, a lasso, a rosary and a trident.

Same as before, bronze, private collection, published on http://www.the-saleroom.com.

On late works the one-head and six-hand form of Mahakala may hold a large knife in his upper right hand instead of a rosary. He stands with both feet on Ganapati.

17th-18th century, Tibet, Mahakala, gilt bronze (copper alloy) with stone inlay, un-gilt base (brass), private collection, photo by Lempertz.

This is his chaturmukha (four faces) form, with one head stacked on the others, two legs and four hands, in which he holds a sword, a spear (missing), a skull cup and a flying knife.

18th century, Tibet, Mahakala, copper alloy with cold gold and pigment, at the British Museum in London (UK).

A rich chocolate brown variant with partial gilding and different attributes in his lower hands (a snare and flaming jewels). The four faces are all at the same level.

Undated (early 15th century?), Tibet, Mahakala, gilt metal, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

The legden or danda form of Mahakala has one face with three eyes, two legs, two hands holding a stick (danda) (missing here). He wears felt boots, a long cloak, a skull crown and bone jewellery.

This example is adorned with a profusion of tiny turquoise and lapis lazuli cabochons forming visvajras on his cloak and a rice grain pattern on the hem. His robe, earrings and crown are equally studded with stones.

18th century, Tibet, Mahakala, ivory, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

In the vyaghra vahana form (rarely seen in sculptures) Mahakala rides a tiger.

This rare example depicts him with human features, wearing Chinese-style jewellery, holding a skull cup and a flaming jewel.

 

Tibet, Mahakala – Shadbhuja (9)

Undated, Tibet, Mahakala, bronze (copper alloy), at the Nicholas Roerich Museum, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

His squarish and friendly face with round eyes suggests this masterpiece was made no later than the 17th century, possibly before. He is adorned with snakes, a garland of severed heads, a cross belt, a tiger skin knotted around his waist. His upper hands hold the hide of an elephant, a skull rosary, a trident (missing); the middle ones hold a flaying knife and a skull cup filled with blood; the lower ones hold a drum and a lasso (missing).

18th century, Tibet, Mahakala, gilt bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo by Christie’s.

A more modern interpretation, with frowning eyebrows, a gaping mouth, red pigment for the hair, eyebrows, moustache and beard, the base and the lasso missing.

18th century, Tibet, Mahakala, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Nagel.

On late works shapes are often sharper, more aggressive, the face more threatening.

Same as before.

 

Tibet, Mahakala – Shadbhuja (8)

17th century, Tibet (labelled Mongolia on Himalayan Art Resources), Mahakala, polychrome bronze (copper alloy) repoussé, base missing, private collection, photo by Rossi & Rossi.

The way Mahakala wears the tiger skin with the tail showing at the front,  his flame-like hair, his fancy necklaces, the terribly ferocious facial features, all help date the piece. The missing attributes are a flaying knife and a skull cup in the main hands, a drum and a lasso in the lower ones, a rosary, a trident and (the paws of) an elephant hide in the upper ones.

A view of the back shows the head of the tiger dangling down and the cross belt with a visvajra design.

17th century, Tibet, Mahakala, gilt bronze (copper alloy) with pigments and stones, at the Royal Ontario Museum (Canada).

The treatment of the eyes and the mouth is very different from early Tibetan works. The above has flaming hair going sideways, a celestial scarf with serpentine ends, plump limbs, all typical of the period and seen on Mongolian and Sino-Tibetan works too. He has both feet on Ganapati.

Some attributes are lost but he still has the elephant hide stretched across his back.

Same as before, Navin Kumar collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

Another version, standing straight and wearing a transparent garment over the tiger skin dhoti.

17th-18th century, Tibet or Mongolia, Mahakala, silver on a gilt copper alloy pedestal, at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore (USA).

This is the white form of the deity – hence the use of silver – standing on two victims. He holds a flaming wish-granting jewel (triratna) and a skull cup in his main hands, a flaying knife and trident in the upper ones, a drum and a vajra hook in the others. No elephant hide or tiger skin but a long skirt-like lower garment.

Tibet, Mahakala – Shadbhuja (7)

15th century, Tibet, Mahakala, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

Mahakala in his shadbhuja (6 hands) form holds a flaying knife and a skull cup in his main hands, a drum and a lasso in the lower ones, a rosary made of small skulls, a trident made of three lotus stalks (broken here) and the hide of an elephant in the upper ones.

He is clad in a tiger skin loin cloth knotted at the front, and adorned with a five-skull crown, a garland of severed heads, bone jewellery with a jewel motif and a matching cross-belt.

Circa 16th century, Tibet, Mahakala, lacquered wood, same as before.

On this Chinese-style example, with some attributes missing but the lotus base preserved, he  stands on Ganapati, the elephant-headed deity, and is adorned with snakes around his neck, wrists and ankles.

16th century, Tibet, Mahakala, stone, at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York (USA).

For this stele made of black stone, the artist (or someone else at a later stage) has used cold gold only for the head and highlighted the hair, eyebrows, beard and moustache with red pigment.

17th century, Tibet, Mahakala, bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo by Christie’s.

The above holds an extra animal skin (leopard or tiger) across his back. He stands on a Pala-revival lotus base with small heart-shaped petals.

When wrathful deities hold a lasso they often have it wound around their left forefinger. On this masterpiece, Mahakala wears a long serpent knotted in an elaborate fashion instead of a sacred thread and Ganapati is also adorned with serpentine jewellery and holding a skull cup filled with blood.